SERIOUS questions were today being asked of Southampton's transport chiefs after parts of the city came to a standstill - again.
Another horrendous day of city centre gridlock left furious motorists stuck in traffic for more than three hours as they tried to negotiate a major route to the docks.
The city’s traffic network failed to cope with the boarding of five cruise ships and buckled with the added pressure of extensive road works.
The chaos – last night branded “an embarrassment” – led to nearly three miles of tailbacks as traffic backed up from Millbrook Road West to past Ocean Village from as early as 6am yesterday.
And as the day wore on things failed to improve – they just got worse.
Cruise passengers were forced to abandon their taxis and drag heavy luggage to cruise terminals in pouring rain, while businesses in the area said they hit in the pocket by the congestion.
There were even reports of people, including a pensioner, having to urinate on the side of the road after the wait became unbearable.
Today serious questions are being asked about why nothing was done to ease the gridlock on one of the busiest days in the city – which had been in the planning for months.
But those questions fell on deaf ears last night with Cllr Jacqui Rayment, the city councillor and Cabinet member responsible for transport, nowhere to be found.
Instead, a statement attributed to her was released by Southampton City Council’s press office in which she said: “We’re aware that drivers have been experiencing delays in the city centre and we regret any inconvenience caused.”
‘Not good enough’, say opposition councillors, who described the disruption as “embarrassing” and labelled Cllr Rayment’s response as a “PR disaster”.
Even the city’s taxi firms said the jams hit them in the pocket and one company considered stopping sending cabs to the congested area.
But Cllr Royston Smith, leader of Southampton’s Conservative party, said the “buck stops” with Cllr Rayment.
He said: “I think it’s dreadful. The last time it happened we had the same line from them.
“There is no point of being aware of the problem, someone needs to do something about it.
“It’s not the first time, or the ||second time, it’s happening reg ularly and the buck stops with her.
“Passengers are going to remember the experience they had getting to ships, or trying to leave them at the end of the holiday. It’s a cop-out and I would say it’s embarrassing.
“She needs to get a grip on the situation – it’s a PR disaster and it’s starting to look like incompetence.”
The tailbacks have been blamed on the high numbers of passengers catching and leaving one of five cruise ships docked in Southampton combined with ongoing roadworks at Platform Road.
Motorist Roger Holsworth, from Yorkshire, was hoping to board Queen Mary 2. He told the Daily Echo at the scene: “We have been here for two hours. It took us four hours from Yorkshire and now this – it’s awful.”
Carol and Tony Russell, from Suffolk, have been coming to Southampton to board Queen Elizabeth for the past few years.
They said: “We have been rolling along for three hours. I'm sorry but they knew this was happening. I’ve been on the phone with the police and traffic control and they’re just pathetic.
“We come every year and have never seen anything like this.”
Businesses around West Quay Road were hit as customers avoided the area.
Alex Jackson, manager of Richmond Motor Group, said the firm lost £10,000 in sales after five customers cancelled appointments.
He said: “A customer from Romsey spent three hours in traffic before cancelling.
“Test drives and road tests have been hindered.”
Daily Echo reader Roger Macnamara said: “The people who run this poor excuse for a city must be the biggest bunch of imbeciles that were put on this earth.”
Hampshire Constabulary confirmed it received calls from several members of the public stuck in traffic, including a broken down motorist.
A spokesman said: “We advise people to contact the council about traffic issues.”
Andy Hamilton, design and construction manager at Balfour Beatty, said engineers were unable to lift road traffic management measures, including temporary traffic lights, to cope with the increase in motorists on the roads.
He said: “It was not safe to do so and it would take longer to get all of the work completed in a time when there are less cruise ships through the winter.
“It’s not the first time and there was congestion before Christmas, but when there is a major cruise in the docks there will be some congestion.
“We anticipate there will be significant traffic next Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, but we will have measures in place to try to accommodate that.”
Here's what transport boss Cllr Jacqui Rayment's statement said:
“We're aware that drivers have been experiencing delays in the city centre and we regret any inconvenience caused.
“The council and its highways partner are constantly reviewing and implementing measures to improve peak time traffic flow and reduce congestion, including modifying traffic management arrangements and signal phasing, extending the hours when manual control of signals is used, and working with ABP to increase staff levels at Dock Gate 4. All this will help to speed up traffic entering and leaving the port, as far as is possible.
“There were five large cruise ships in port on Friday and as a result there were considerably more vehicles on the roads in the city centre. The ongoing improvement works at Platform Road can have an impact on journey times around Dock Gate 4, particularly when more than one cruise liner is in port and passengers are disembarking and joining the ships.”